The nearly two century old and the very exclusive H. Moser & Cie is charting a novel and rather unusual path in the rather classic world of Swiss watches.
A watch made of Swiss cheese. Yes, actual cheese. And a ‘protest’ watch at that. The Swiss Mad Watch was the brainchild of Edouard Meylan, CEO, H. Moser & Cie, one of the most admired ‘independent’ Swiss watch brands. Meylan was protesting the changes to the rules of what ‘Swiss made’ meant, in 2017. Well, the watch certainly created a buzz, especially as there were many other references within it to what ‘made in Switzerland’ meant. Multiple other such moments in recent years has marked the brand and its CEO as one to watch out for in a rather crowded Swiss watch space.
The dapper Meylan may be in his mid-40s – he could pass of as much younger – the heritage of the brand he heads, H. Moser & Cie, is almost a couple of centuries old. Yes, for the horologists amongst you, it is the brand that is known for its extensive use of blue dials.
The brand is now 191 years old. Meylan says it was one of the most successful brands in the 19th century, “all around the world, created by an amazing man, Heinrich Moser. What many people don’t realise is that the brand watch produced watches pretty much all the time. We have a beautiful museum in Schaffhausen, where you can find watches from the 19th and 20th century till 1980. There is about a 20-year gap, which I hope I can close this gap.”
The brand was revived in 2002. “In 2005 there was the official relaunch by the great grandson of Heinrich Moser and some entrepreneurs. They wanted to bring back the what is known as the ‘little pearl of Schaffhausen’ – a little jewel, a little bit rough, we are cutting the diamond.”
H. Moser & Cie has entered India in partnership with Ethos Watch Boutiques. The exclusive timepieces from the brand’s Heritage, Endeavour, Pioneer, Swiss Alp Watch and Venturer collections will now be available in India, with a starting price of ₹940,000. “For our brand H. Moser & Cie., the Indian market is very interesting and unchartered,” says Meylan. “We are really looking forward to venturing out to a new territory and making investments in India. It’s always about the brand, the partner and the market being ready. It’s the right time. We always wanted very exclusive partners, who understand the brand. We like the idea of family owned partners.”
Among the niche, independent brands, H. Moser & Cie. has a very strong following internationally, in a large way because of their unique and innovative approach to the craft of watchmaking and their distinctive designs, says Yashovardan Saboo, Chairman of the Board, Ethos Swiss Watch Studios. “Even fans of fine watches in India regard H. Moser quite highly, and there has been a demand for Moser among serious collectors and aficionados alike. It’s exactly the kind of brand we at Ethos look forward to bringing for the Indian connoisseurs. The early response has been tremendous. We’ve learned that people are willing to spend on a quality product like this, and we look forward to a lot more from this partnership.”
While Meylan is unsure of the number of past Indian customers, he says there have been Indian customers buying in Dubai and London, even in Switzerland or Hongkong. “India is a big country. I have many friends here who are entrepreneurs. The big challenge is taxes, and that is evolving as well.” He says the knowledge on watches is growing fast in India and the demand for independent brands is growing as well. “We get more and more requests and feedback. The presence of social media is extremely strong in India. I see India being 5-10 per cent of our business in next 3 to 5 years.”
Best of both worlds
Meylan describes the brand as a “historical independent” brand. “Today we are at 65 people, plus the people in the market. We sell in about 30 markets. There are between 65 to 80 points of sale. We have a very small production, very exclusive. We produce around 1,500 watches per year. The prices go from US$12,000, with everything made inhouse. The most expensive watch we ever sold was over a million US dollars. The average price is around US$32,000. The biggest market is Europe, especially Switzerland. Hongkong and Greater China is a strong market for us as well. The fastest growing markets at the moment are the Middle East and the US.”
Since Meylan has taken over, there have been a number of changes at the brand. “People still want traditional, elegant watches,” he says. “Doesn’t mean they want boring watches. Our watches are elegant, traditional yet sexy. We need innovation, we need new watches. That’s the best way to express Moser. When you don’t have a big marketing budget, the best way to go ahead is doing something crazy. The moment I really came to realise what I wanted to do with the brand was when we launched the Endeavour Perpetual Calendar Funky Blue. It was a watch created by my predecessor – we just changed the dial – electric blue and put a kudu band on it. It opened new doors and made it very clear what we wanted to do.”
As for the debate over watches are today are more functional or decorative, Meylan says, “Function is the essence of the design for us. It is not functional in the sense that it is essential to your well-being but it’s essential in that it is easy to use, practical. We usually build the watch around the movement – the Bauhaus approach. That’s why we have those watches which look so simple sometimes. That’s how we try to make the function better, easy to use, easy to read. For example, in general, when you touch a Perpetual Calendar, you break it. With a Moser, you cannot. It’s very clear to read, to set, that’s the way we develop a watch at Moser – we try to make so that people can actually enjoy it. Brands try to make a watch complicated to that they can fetch a higher price. We try to make them simple as possible.”
A slowdown may be looming, but Meylan express confidence on Moser’s ability to succeed through it. “For the industry it is difficult to say. We are a brand and a supplier for hair springs and have many clients. We see a bit of a slowdown there. We see a lot of our third parties not so confident but I think that’s limited to Hongkong. Even for us, August was one of our worst months we ever had in Hongkong. Other markets are doing very well, so we still have a strong growth. Hongkong is a very touristic location and Chinese tourists are not going to Hongkong any more. The Chinese customers today still represent the biggest community buying watches around the world. Moser watches are not bought as gifts, people buy them for themselves.” With such distinctive watches, horologists are right in following the brand as Meylan shapes Moser anew.